Vivacious vocalist is a captivating performer: Sea Stars
Jazz Sings! at the Aquarium features a wave of standout artists.
By Andrew Gilbert
There are almost as many species of jazz singers as there are fish in the sea, and a dazzling array from both will be on view at the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Saturday for the Kuumbwa Jazz Center’s annual Jazz at the Aquarium fundraiser.
In addition to headliners Kim Nalley, Ed Reed and Spencer Day, the program features Santa Cruz singer and American Songbook aficionado Ron Kaplan, the swing-era vocal stylings of the Jazz Birds, the singer-songwriter duo Dreambeach, and the youthful verve of the Kuumbwa Honor Jazz Band. Proceeds benefit the educational programs for both Kuumbwa and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
When it comes to jazz styles, Kim Nalley contains multitudes. The vivacious vocalist is a captivating performer who knows how to seize an audience’s attention. Equally effective belting a suggestive blues piece as delivering a sultry standard, Nalley can scat with authority, often improvising harmonically complex, melodically inventive lines. She’s also developed into a superlative ballad singer.
Born and raised in New Haven, Nalley’s first musical aspiration was to be an opera singer. She attended a high school for the performing arts associated with Yale University and was deeply involved with musical theater. She caught the jazz bug around the age of 16 and started checking out greats like Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, but she cites Bugs Bunny as her first influence.
“I was always really clued into those cartoons,” says Nalley, who owns and runs the North Beach club Jazz at Pearl’s. “Later, when I was getting exposed to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, I was remembering songs from Fred Astaire movies and cartoons. I think I learned ‘I’m In the Mood For Love’ from the ‘Little Rascals.’ ”
A self-described Dinah Washington devotee, Nalley has also listened closely to Helen Humes, Billie Holiday and Ivie Anderson, a singer whom she calls to mind with her crisp diction and knack for delivering an earthy line with an amused, knowing air. In recent years however, she has delved deeply into the folk-tinged repertoire of Nina Simone. After a series of sold-out concerts devoted to Simone’s music, Nalley recorded She Put a Spell on Me, an album exploring standards associated with Simone and her politically charged anthems.